Saturday, February 8, 2014

Are Indians Behaving Like the US Republicans?

Images courtesy wiki
There was a time, as recently as the early twenty-first century when ordinary Indians were scared to talk about the all-powerful politicians. We whispered our discontent to a few trusted friends behind the safety of our own walls. Those days, hopefully, are gone for good. We've really understood what Elie Weisel said. "Neutrality helps the oppressor and silence, the tormentor."

Today, we don't hesitate to use online media like facebook, twitter, email, blogs, etc to promote our favourite candidate for Prime Minister of India. To that extent our democracy is alive and well.

At the same time we know the issues that have beleaguered our nation since independence - politicians, the police and babus in government who won't move unless bribed, individual politicians who depend on criminals and buying off media to survive in politics, too many poor Indians who fall through the safety net for health services and education, a lack of safety for women on our roads, business that has to bribe politicians to survive, schools that take 'donations', communal minded politicians who exclude too many Indians from their plans for prosperity and of course, pot-holed roads and polluted air, soil and water, to name a "few".

People who are rooting for Modi think he has a proven track record of being pro-business. It is clear to them that his policies have made Gujarat prosper and will, therefore, make India prosper. What isn't clear and they have no desire to clarify, is what happened during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots. One thing stands out. The good, decent, pro-business and pro-India Muslims were also persecuted - caught between hardline Hindus and hardliners from their own community. No Indian Muslim was safe in Gujarat during that period - alienated in their own country. It probably made a lot of them disillusioned and hardline. Would such communal politics be good for India?

People rooting for Kejriwal believe he will stamp out corruption to a great extent. For example, the police will start doing their job better instead of looking for a way to extract money from every sorry situation or individual. In fact, Kejriwal says, the police are already running scared. Kejriwal's supporters don't wish to know how draconian the Janlokpal could be. [Arundhati Roy had this to say in 2011.] There is much to do - genuine issues - police corruption, women's safety, water for everyone - and Arvind and his party are addressing these issues where previously no other party did - in fact, in the old days people felt the established parties were in collusion with the perpetrators. What Arvind's supporters don't want to know is how exactly the AAP's Janlokpal looks like now. I feel it is very much a priority but Kejriwal and co. have decided to wisely keep it out of the forefront. Ever since the Dr. Soonawalla rape case many people, barring his supporters, have another worry. Is Kejriwal capable of censuring his own party members for their excesses or wrong doings? If he can't even censure them for trying to take the law into their own hands instead of letting it follow due process, how is he going to apply the Janlokpal to his own party members?

As for Rahul Gandhi, his supporters believe he will have the backing of experienced and seasoned politicians - he'll have their expertise at his disposal. The status quo is known and safe - a Gandhi at the helm. It doesn't matter if the said Gandhi himself isn't astute, brilliant or able to think on his feet.

We know, eventually, one of these three, or perhaps an unknown, will have the job of tackling India's problems. Once that happens, thanks to social media and our connectivity, we won't be fooled by their rhetoric - varying from good, laughable to outright, blatant lies. We will continue watching them like hawks and discuss every move they make.

I read comments dripping with sarcasm on social media regularly. Some are astute, others, a good laugh and yet others are in poor taste. If we manage to give our favourite an advantage we believe it is a feather in our cap.  If we manage to discredit the others, even better. We use hook, crook or sarcasm - anything at our disposal - to highlight the opposition's negatives. If we have no favourites we prefer to talk about their errors of judgements, faux pas or worse, their private lives. It is all gloom, doom and cynicism. Rarely do we say anything positive. Which is all very well as long as we let them get on with their job. We shouldn't become like the Republican party of the US whose main agenda is to discredit their president and tie both his hands behind his back at the expense of the US and a majority of the US citizens. Not that I believe for a moment that Obama is right every single time. Just that he is unable to move even when he is.

Nor should we glorify politicians. Like the rest of us, they do a job for which, unlike most of us, they give themselves a huge salary.

Whoever is at the helm, a democracy is effective only when ordinary citizens participate fearlessly and have a balanced point of view. Most of our news media present a one-sided picture depending on who they support (and who supports them). As ordinary Indians we are aware, whether it is Modi, Kejriwal or Rahul, they have their strengths and weaknesses. If we are for them it doesn't follow that everything they do is right.

If we are against them, not everything they do is wrong. It might be so for members of the opposition. They (sadly) believe it is their job to disrupt everything the person at the helm tries to do, including things that might be beneficial for India and Indians.

Unlike the opposition, ordinary Indians need a  balanced and astute view of the actions of our politicians. As they say, it isn't about putting our favourite candidate on a higher pedestal. It is about issues.

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